by Steve Martin, Guest Columnist
All across the United States (but particularly in the South) public schools are violating the Constitution by sponsoring prayers in schools or before athletic events. Thankfully, groups like American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) are trying to uphold the law. Unfortunately, many Christians just cannot seem to get their heads around this, even though it’s often those very same Christians who scream the loudest about upholding the Constitution and liberty for all. (What they apparently mean is liberty for Christians).
Among some of the more absurd claims I’ve heard from some Christians is that Christianity is “under attack”, and that they are being persecuted by such efforts to uphold the Constitution. Take a recent case in Alabama, for example, where the FFRF is trying to stop prayers that invoke “Jesus” before athletic events. David McKelvey, a pastor nearby the school, told Fox News that the complaint was “unfortunate” but not surprising. Christianity, he said, is under attack. “It’s going on all over the place,” he said. “You just hate for it to be coming to your doorstep.” [Translation: “It sucks when we get caught violating the law.”]
Don’t you just love it when the person breaking the law acts like the victim?
And, make no mistake, breaking the law is exactly what Christians like McKelvey, and all public school officials and teachers who promote school prayers, are doing. Many Christians simply do not understand the law; a quick read of the comments by self-identified Christians on Fox News’ website will demonstrate this.
What follows is an analysis of just a few comments demonstrating the victim mentality. Comments are in a different font and italicized.
While I’m a Christian, I lived for a time in a predominantly Jewish town where there were many expressions of Judaism and I wasn’t the least bit offended. Why would an atheist want to stop expressions of Christianity? What they’re doing borders on hate crime.
It’s a hate crime to prevent school officials from officially endorsing a particular religion via prayer at a public event? Whether or not someone is “offended” is irrelevant. Further, atheists are not stopping expressions of Christianity. They are stopping illegal, unconstitutional, publicly endorsed prayers. The “victim” mentality is shown in this comment.
The following comment makes a threat towards the person who complained about the prayer, trying to suggest that atheists are “making life miserable” for “good Americans” (which, presumably, means “Christians”).
“Did anyone get this person’s address??? These bozos make life miserable for good Americans, so let’s make life miserable for them for a change!!!”
How about this one?
“Why is it that atheists are the only ones allowed to have free speech and are the only ones allowed to prevent others from taking part in free speech?”
Again, this person is trying to say that atheists are somehow preventing his/her free speech. This is somewhat ironic, given the fact that it’s the school who is officially leading the prayers and who is clearly attempting to silence atheists. The reality of the situation is the exact opposite of what this commenter is saying.
How’s this one for bad advice and ignorance of the law?
I would love to sue them over them stomping on our right to the freedom of religion, it doesn’t read freedom from religion.
This commenter wrongly believes that stopping prayer at a public school event is “stomping” on their rights. Again, we clearly can see the victim mentality here.
Here is a common faulty argument, followed by the claim of persecution:
OUTSTANDING!!!! Religion is based upon FAITH. Christianity is a FAITH in Jesus who is the Christ. Atheism is a FAITH that God does not exist. Therefore, it is the height of hypocrisy for atheists to push their religion on Christians.
Aside from the gross misunderstanding of atheism as requiring “faith” and being a religion, preventing public prayer is not pushing anything. Quite the opposite: atheists are trying to prevent religion from getting pushed on everyone at these events.
To read the full article and/or to peruse the thousands of comments, go here.
I could cite hundreds, even thousands, more comments just like those above, but I think I’ve shown enough to get the point across. Christians who make comments such as these are attempting to convince others that Christians are the victims. In reality, everyone except Christians are the real victims when forced to sit through public school-endorsed prayers. Moreover, no one is saying that Christians aren’t allowed to pray. If that was the case, then Christians might have a point. Rather, the argument is that public officials cannot endorse any particular religion, and teachers cannot make everyone’s kids pray in school.
So why, then, do some Christians make this claim of persecution? There could be several reasons. The first is simply a misunderstanding of the Constitution. Perhaps they genuinely believe it means only the freedom to practice religion, but not the freedom to be an atheist. Second, it also could be because they want to avoid and deflect any real debate. Rather than responding to, for example, the Constitutional question about the separation of church and state, the claim that removing prayer from schools is an effort to suppress Christianity makes for a convenient red herring. By playing victim, these Christians are able to derail the debate, making it all about their alleged victim status. Third, no doubt, many Christians are worried that Christianity is losing its privileged status.
This third reason warrants some further analysis. If anything, Christianity still enjoys a place of privilege in the United States, often in unconstitutional forms, and, in reality, non-Christians and non-believers are persecuted (perhaps “persecuted” is too strong of a word, but suffice to say that non-Christians are marginalized by being told they are “not the norm.”) Thus, what Christians are reacting to is that loss of privilege, whether real or perceived. (I would argue that Christianity still enjoys all sorts of privilege in the U.S.)
However, when atheists speak up about public prayer, for example, it becomes harder to hold on to the delusion that everyone is Christian and that anything other than Christianity is abnormal. (This is also why many Christians react so strongly to any sort of billboard or sing on a bus that questions the existence of a deity.) In the same way that gay rights advocates had to work towards getting people to realize that heterosexuality is not the only sexual orientation that is “normal” and “acceptable”, atheists, and people who believe something other than Christianity, are beginning to erode the cozy, privileged relationship between Christianity and normalcy. It’s not that Christians are being persecuted that gets a reaction; rather, it’s their realization that non-Christians are no longer being silent on the issue.
It seems that members of nearly every religion, at some point in time, actually were persecuted. This is not surprising, since theists believe their god/s is/are the true god/s (by definition, they must think this, otherwise they would choose a different faith, or become an atheist.) And, when one believes that their god is the true god, they feel emboldened to act in ways they otherwise would not. In particular, some believe that their violence is justified. In other cases, at the very least, they believe they have some kind of divine authority to attempt to silence non-believers and believers of other faiths. (This reminds to point out that members of non-Christian faiths ought to be joining, or at the very least, thanking, atheists for preventing state-sponsored Christianity.)
One final thought that hopefully reaches some Christians: When Christians in the United States act like victims, they demean those individuals who really are being persecuted on this planet. In reality, it makes U.S. Christians look petty and egotistical.